By Sandy Ho
The purpose of the upcoming Disability & Intersectionality Summit (DIS) is to flip the flow of power and conversation towards disability justice to center marginalized disabled people, and disabled people of color.
Historically, the positioning of disabled people perpetuates ableist attitudes that further oppress multiply-marginalized disabled people of color.
While there are a few disability organizations, and grassroots coalitions whose structural organization and practices support marginalized disabled people they are still few and far between. One of these organizations is Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network (AWN).
This year, DIS has the privilege of working with AWN as our fiscal intermediary, and the partnership has been a powerful collaboration in practicing allyship, and disability justice organizing. Recently, I had the chance to interview AWN’s Executive Director, Sharon daVanport on how intersectionality takes precedence within AWN.
The upcoming Disability & Intersectionality Summit (DIS) is happening on Saturday October 13th in Cambridge, MA.
How do you see intersectionality within the broad range of services at Autism Women’s Network?
Sharon: Intersectionality is one of AWN’s core values and the basis whereby we approach all our work. We see intersectional activism as the only way to fully engage in opportunities that lead to lasting change. As a side note, and while we’re on the topic of intersectional work – AWN recently announced that our org’s name is changing to Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWN) as it more accurately represents our vision, goals and community. We will transition fully to the new name by July 1st.
What are some ways that Autism Women & Nonbinary Network has supported intersectional work in the past? Current projects? Future projects you want to share?
Sharon: Our Autism & Ethnicity Committee was formed by AWN’s board several years ago. Its members are active in presenting talks and panel presentations about race, neurodiversity, and intersectionality. Committee members produce various forms of writing directly related to autism and ethnicity, and racist hate crimes.
Committee Chair, Morénike Giwa Onaiwu is one of the co-editors of “All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism,” an anthology AWN co-published with Lydia Brown. The book is the first-ever anthology amplifying and centering the voices of Autistic People of Color.
AWN’s currently looking to fill volunteer roles for our committee: Divergent: when disability and feminism collide. The Divergent Committee is our way of reaching out to the greater disability community of women to work on issues we all have in common which are influenced by the ableism and racism found in mainstream feminism.
“Divergent works to change how disabled women are commonly perceived within society while challenging the myths of our inferiority, both as women and as disabled people. We explore the interactions between sexism and ableism within both disabled and nondisabled communities. We seek to offer perspectives on gender and disability by emphasizing non-traditional femininity and non-traditional feminism.”
If you’re is interested in knowing more about the various volunteer roles within Divergent, please don’t hesitate to contact AWN!
What is the impact you hope DIS will have within the disability community? In our larger society?
Sharon: AWN is a huge fan of DIS!! There’s no doubt the DIS Summit’s impact will be powerfully felt by the disability community. The summit provides an influential setting by amplifying the voices of marginalized people with disabilities, as they take the lead in directing the narrative surrounding their lived experiences. Even more impressive, presenters cover topics ranging from ableism in academia to police brutality on disabled black people (and so much more) – not to mention how this is accomplished during a one day conference!! The intersectionality embodied within the work as well as the DIS vision is truly amazing. Society at large would do well to use DIS as a model and example when creating spaces and programs for disability studies.
What are some ways that you think disability services organizations could center and or support intersectional activism and or intersectional work?
Sharon: I’d like to see leading disability organizations actively engage with the intersectional work and activism generated by grassroots efforts; and for these larger orgs to recognize the meaningful contribution spearheaded by grassroots activism; and further, for them to respect the blood, sweat and tears from these forces.
People are oftentimes amazed at how much smaller grassroots orgs like AWN and DIS accomplish (with mostly volunteers!) but what they fail to realize is that the driving force behind our energies is fueled by unrelenting passion and focus – activism with this combination is unstoppable.
It sometimes appears as though we’re barely plugging along, but then we take a look back after a couple of years and it’s amazing to see the influence and impact our grassroots communities continue to have on policy, disability rights and campaigns! I’ve been told more than once that it’s hard to imagine what smaller orgs like DIS and AWN could do if we had the funding and backing of the mainstream disability orgs, but I sure can!
What are you most looking forward to on October 13th?
Sharon: I’m literally counting down the days for the DIS Summit! The sheer anticipation of attending the diverse and intersectional presentations keep me wishing October 13th was already here!
Sharon daVanport is the Founding Executive Director of Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network (AWN). As an autistic and disability rights activist, her public speaking engagements include topics on: violence against women and girls in vulnerable communities, health and wellness for women with disabilities, and how to effectively use privilege when amplifying the voices and work of disabled people who experience racial and gender inequality.
Sharon is committed to AWN’s mission to provide quality resources by developing inclusive and accessible opportunities for intersectional community. Honors include: ASAN’s Self-Advocate of the Year Award, LSS Award for advocacy focusing on autistic women and girls, and Autism Society of America’s Outstanding Literary Award for “What Every Autistic Girl Wishes her Parents Knew.”
In her spare time she enjoys traveling, research, reading, music, and spending time with family and friends.
For more information on Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network please visit their website: awnnetwork.org
To read about the name change for AWN check-out their tumblr post: https://autismwomensnetwork.org/autistic-women-non-binary-network-awn
Sandy Ho is a disabled Asian-American queer woman from Massachusetts. She is the founder of the Disability & Intersectionality Summit. Twitter: @intersectedcrip